An elephant in the room? Information literacy in the narrative of UK public libraries

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Diana Hackett


Despite its recognised role in education, lifelong learning and active citizenship, the term information literacy (IL) is rarely used in the context of public libraries. At a time when public libraries are operating in an environment of financial austerity and are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the value of their role in UK society, this paper presents the findings of a small-scale research project examining the narratives surrounding public libraries and IL.

Through a qualitative text analysis, a picture is built up of the roles of public libraries as presented by government, professional organisations and charitable organisations. This analysis shows that IL is not a concept explicitly associated with public libraries; that the government’s focus is on public libraries’ role in delivering digital inclusion while at the same time depicting a largely passive role for libraries and diminished role for professional library staff; and that while current library advocacy supports this digital role, it does not effectively address the deeper need for transferrable information skills.

Based on this analysis, this paper recommends greater collaboration between academic research, higher education, and the public library sector, with a view to fostering a better understanding of IL and its potential to create a wider, more educationally-focussed role for public libraries and their staff.

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How to Cite
HACKETT, Diana. An elephant in the room?. Journal of Information Literacy, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1, p. 4-26, june 2018. ISSN 1750-5968. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 31 mar. 2023. doi:
Research articles (peer-reviewed articles)